Excerpt from the Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise

Second Part, Laisse 143 (ext.) – 145


Laisse 143 (extract)

I sing the court when complete, with rumours was loud
Of its lord apostolic, who true faith avowed.
So was made up the council and the legates proud
Of prelates of the Church, who to its summons bowed,
Cardinals, bishops, abbots and priors endowed,
Counts and viscounts from farthest regions in a crowd. …


Laisse 144

The count to speak well knew, with sense and wise content.
His reasoned case laid out while stood on the pavement,
The court listening, watching, all rapt in close intent;
The count, with visage clear and bearing confident
Turned to the Pope and spoke with words most eloquent–
…..Senher, by apostolic right and world assent,
Who in Saint Peter’s place alone has government,
From whom all sinners seek protection from torment,
Whose bound to uphold right and peace and true judgement,
As you’re above us set, for our salvation meant,
My lord, hear what I say, my rights restore unspent;
In my defence, I can swear on the sacrament
‘Mong friends of heretics and flock I am absent,
I’ve not their friendship sought nor would my heart consent;
And holy Church has found me one obedient.
I’ve come into your court to seek faithful judgement,
For me, the count, my lord, and his son hither sent,
Who’s fair and good and wise, if youthful at present,
And ‘gainst the law he’s nothing done nor ill intent.
He’s thus no reason for reproach nor to repent,
Indeed, his guilt of harm to none is apparent,
To honest men, it’s thus a great astonishment
To thole from his inheritance his banishment.
…..“The mighty count, my lord, of many honours pent,
Him and his land into your mercy’s care has sent,
Provence, Toulouse and Montauban to your hands lent;
Yet these were given o’er to death and vile torment
To his worst enemy, a man of evil bent,
That Simon de Montfort who hangs as punishment,
Enslaves, lays waste, destroys–of pity innocent.
…..“Yet, only since they’re in your ward’s predicament,
Has come upon them death and dangers violent.
And I myself, dread lord, upon your commandment,
Yielded the fort of Foix and its strong battlement.
That castle was so strong, complete as defendant,
Well stocked with bread, good wine and meat and corn unspent,
And clear, sweet water sprung from ‘neath that rock pendant,
With noble company in shining armament,
I feared for no danger, assault or siege intent.” …


Laisse 145

… The bishop of Toulouse vigorously declared:
…..“My lords,” this prelate said, “you’ve heard by this count’s word
He’s free of heresy nor in its stain has shared;
Yet I say in his lands, its roots have deep entered
And these have long his love, support and grace incurred
So his whole county’s crammed with those thus unimpaired;
The peak of Montségur with fortress was prepared
With garrison to fend all whom its welcome shared.
His sister, when widowed, the heresy averred,
And in Pamiers town for more than three years fared;
There, doctrines false, first many converts from her heard.
“And those, your pilgrims, who for God’s good service cared,
Expelling heretics, hired swords, the rootless herd,
So many has he killed, hacked, broken and severed
That Montgey’s field with their remains is dense layered
And, while France weeps, to you remains not honour’s sherd.
“And there, beyond the gate, rise moans and cries still heard
Of wounded men, eyes out and cut off limbs not spared,
Who cannot walk but with a guiding lead prepared,
And he, who’s killed, maimed, crushed and tortured has so erred
No land to hold in future has he thus deserved!”
…..Sir Arnaut of Villemur at this claim sprang forward,
All paid good heed and watched and listened to his word,
For he was known of good reason and nothing scared.
…..“My lords, had I known that this charge would be preferred,
…..And in the court of Rome with such show be entered,
…..There’d be, for sure, more without eyes, their noses pared!”
“–By God,” each said to each, “how this brave fool has dared!”
…..“Lord”, cried the count, “of my great right I’ve not despaired,
By loyal heart and unstained mind am I prepared;
Let law judge me–then is my safety unimpaired:
For heretics, black cloaked nor faithful, have I cared;
Instead I’ve offered, given and in law declared
Sums to Boulbonne abbey and there good welcome shared,
Where gave my ancestors who there have been interred.
And if the peak of Montségur to law’s referred
It’s clear its lordship’s never been to me deferred.
…..“And if my sister’s sinned and in wrong has faltered,
Not for her fault should my destruction be ordered.
Her right of residence on this land’s been declared–
The count, my father, one year ‘fore his death occurred,
Said, if a child of his, no matter where, suffered,
They could turn to that land where they had been succoured,
And there, all wants supplied, they’d welcome be offered.
…..“I swear to you, by that Lord who on cross was bared,
That no good pilgrim, who to distant Rome had fared,
Upon those good journeys God, by decree, ordered,
Has been attacked by me, ravished or been murdered,
Nor has my company upon their routes been spurred.
But–those robbers, false traitors, breakers of their word
Bearing that cross which my destruction has furthered,
By me, nor by my men, have any been captured
Who’ve lost not eyes, nor hands, fingers and feet severed:
And when I think of those I’ve killed–delight is stirred–
And equal ill at those escape and flight has spared.
…..“And I warn you this bishop, whose violence has flared
In all, to God’s a cheat, to us traitor declared,
Who by misleading songs and sweet deceiving word,
All to perdition’s brought who’ve sung what they have heard;
By sharp and polished verbal tricks which us ensnared,
By our attentive gifts, once jongleur life he shared,
His evil doctrines have such strength and wealth gathered,
There’s none dares breathe to contradict his lies absurd.
Yet, when in monk’s habit, he abbot’s rule secured,
Those in his abbey found its light was so obscured,
Save by his removal was good or peace assured.
Since bishop of Toulouse elect he’s been declared,
Then all throughout the land so great a fire has flared
It never could be quenched no matter how watered:
Five hundred thousand–more–nor great, nor small’s, been spared,
Bodies and souls, their lives destroyed, by him scattered.
…..“So by his deeds as also by his words uttered,
More like an Antichrist is he, take you my word
…..Than messenger from Rome.”


Guillaume de Tudèle and Unknown

Guillaume de Tudèle was a Master of Arts and a clerk in minor orders. He seems to have combined knowledge of the chanson de geste with interest in geomancy and may have had some early success as a jongleur. His main period of activity was between 1190 and 1214. He travelled from the Kingdom of Navarre to Montauban, apparently being present at the marriage of Count Raimond VI of Toulouse to Éléanore d’ Aragon in 1199.  Leaving Montauban, probably, despite Guillaume’s claims to foresight, only when it was menaced by the crusading army in 1211, he found refuge in Bruniquel where, under the protection of Raimond VI’s brother, Count Baudouin, he became a canon at Saint-Antonin and so, in a small way, he profited from the results of the crusade. His part of the Chanson was probably composed between c. 1210 and 1213/14. Although it is not without criticism of the crusaders (his is the record of the massacre of the citizens of Beziers in 1209), he takes a sympathetic view of the church and of the crusade and is largely favourable to the crusade’s effective leader, Simon de Montfort.

The second part of the Chanson, from the autumn of 1213 on, was the work of a still unknown poet whose language and viewpoint are entirely distinct. The second part was composed in what has, until recently, been regarded as probably a Toulousaine dialect. Whatever the mystery of its authorship, this second part is bitterly opposed to the crusade, to de Montfort and to leading churchmen; it is deeply loyal to the people and leaders of the south, most of all to the Counts of Toulouse, being particularly proud of the city, then the second in Europe, and of its people. There is no evidence that the second poet was a Cathar believer or even a supporter of any heretical views.

Nigel Mace

Nigel Mace is a historian, a translator and an occasional poet. As a historian he has specialised in 20th century British and European history, especially based on film sources, and as a translator his interests have lain in the late medieval and renaissance periods, especially in Scotland (Sir David Lindsay's play, the satire of The Three Estates, Ashgate, 1998 and Blind Harry's epic poem, The Wallace, forthcoming) but also in the Languedoc and in Italy. As a university teacher he was Head of History at the university college of St. Mark & St. John in Plymouth (UK) and twice held the Vernon Chair of Biography at Dartmouth College, for whose London history program he also taught for 25 years. He publishes poetry in English and in Scots under the name of Nigel Stuart.

English translation copyright (c) Nigel Mace, 2013.